The most important day in hip-hop history is June 28, 1988.
On that day, implausibly, not just one, but two albums released that would change the trajectory of the nascent genre, spinning it off into multiple creative directions that ultimately still have a last impact on the culture today. Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live The Kane and Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, both landed on the same day, and the rap landscape was never the same again.
Until that fateful Tuesday toward the end of the decade, exactly thirty years ago today, hip-hop still seemed, both to those outside of the culture and some within it, like more than a fad than the earth-shaking counterculture it was becoming. While the nascent genre had slowly expanded in scope and reach over the past decade, its progress hadn’t yet allowed it to shake loose its stigma as a goofy diversion for kids, without deep artistic merit or an overarching message regarding the world around it.
The raps remained simplistic and largely confined to the realm of feel-good party rhymes. What few message songs existed still did so under the guise of party records that would play well to the park jams and basement bashes where rap music was still most prevalent, even as it began to surge out onto the mainstream stage with big shows and television appearances, introducing the trendy musical craze that centered Black kids and culture in a pop context for pretty much the first time in American history.
Then, in 1988, as summer broke, those two iconic albums shook up the world of hip-hop, and with it, the surrounding American popular culture that both indirectly birthed it and would come to circle it like the Earth does the sun. June 28 was the day hip-hop got serious and finally found its voice.